Mapping the field of English for specific purposes (1980–2018): A co-citation analysis

Yanhua Liu, Guangwei Hu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Leveraging state-of-the-art scientometric and analytical techniques, this paper provides a diachronic, quantitative, systematic overview of English-for-specific-purposes (ESP) research, as represented by the publications cited in two flagship journals of the field from 1980 to 2018. A co-citation analysis of 1092 main articles and their 25,147 unique references have identified 11 major clusters of co-cited references, representing the field's major areas of research. These clusters are mapped onto three evolutionary stages of the field, namely the initial conceptualizing stage (1970s–1990s) centering on needs analysis, the maturing stage (1990s–2000s) characterized by the development of major methodological approaches (e.g., genre-based, corpus-based, contextual, and critical approaches), and the flourishing stage (2000s-) ushering in a diversity of research interests (e.g., move analysis, cross-disciplinary and cross-linguistic variation, lexical bundles, vocabulary lists, metadiscourse, and academic writing in a global context). The co-citation analysis has also identified 52 landmark studies, 11 of which experienced recent citation bursts, indicating current research interests of the field. Thus, this scientometric review provides a systematic account that complements existing narrative reviews.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-116
Number of pages20
JournalEnglish for Specific Purposes
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Co-citation analysis
  • English for Specific Purposes (ESPJ)
  • ESP
  • Journal of English for Academic Purposes (JEAP)
  • Scientometric review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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